The grand debate topic tonight on radio France Culture’s originally named “From 6 to 8” news program was how to explain the Obama-mania in the French suburbs. (Quick refresher course: Economically speaking, the suburbs here are more poverty-class than middle class, the racial mix more colorful than typically are what we know as suburbs in the United States.) One of the guests decided to try to answer the question by explaining that in the United States, when you ask someone where they’re from, you mean “What state are you from?”; in France, “Where are you from?” really means “What country are you from?” *Even if you were born in France* — and thus you’re French — what it REALLY really means is “What race are you?” (Only, since they deported the Jews it’s not permitted to actually phrase the quesiton that way.) “But if we can return to what’s supposed to our topic tonight,” said the host, not realizing that it was precisely this question — what pulls young French people of color to Obama’s story and his election — that her guest was addressing. No matter where his parents were born, no matter the color of his skin, there was no question in the minds of tens of millions of Americans where Obama was from: the country in which he was born. The young French suburbans of color here just want to be regarded the same way. Not — to be explicit — as “Arabs” but as French.
PS They’ve evidently got a long way to go. Another guest insisted that if a young French person of Arab descent doesn’t get a job he’s interviewed for, it’s not because of the color of his skin but because he didn’t prepare for the interview or showed up in tennis shoes. (A typical racist subterfuge, by the way.) There are none so blind as those who will not see.